THAILAND: Human rights defender subjected to judicial harassment
August 24, 2014, 5:06 am
On 24 August 2014, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, a long-time human rights defender and director of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), received a warrant summoning her to report to the Yala police station by 25 August 2014. She has postponed her reporting to the Yala police station until later in September. The warrant was in relation to an investigation carried out pursuant to a legal complaint of libel and defamation filed against her by Army Task Force 41. The complaint accuses Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and CrCF of causing damage to the reputation of the Army by disseminating an open letter about a case of torture carried out in southern Thailand. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is gravely concerned that Army has responded to the work of CrCF defending human rights by threatening legal proceedings, rather than taking necessary action to end and redress torture. The AHRC views the judicial harassment of Pornpen Khonkhachonkiet as another indication of the downward slide and deepening human rights crisis in Thailand.
Since the declaration of martial law in southern Thailand in January 2004, the Cross Cultural Foundation has been at the forefront of documenting and calling for justice in cases of torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, and other human rights violations. The work of the organization, and especially the work carried out by Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, is in the service of education citizens about their rights, recording rights violations, and pushing for accountability and redress. As part of this work, they routinely document cases and aid victims in filing both formal complaints and disseminating this information to the public via the media. In this case, the complaint was filed by Army Task Force 41 after an open letter which detailed a case of torture of a young man in Yala circulated in public (Some of the details of the open letter were published online by Isra News Agency here). The Army has claimed that the young man was not tortured, and so therefore the open letter constitutes libel and defamation.
The judicial harassment of Pornpen Khongkachonkiet is part of a broader pattern of harassment and legal proceedings carried out against those who expose torture, call for accountability and defend human rights in Thailand. The Government of Thailand acceded to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading or Inhuman Treatment (CAT) on 2 October 2007. As a state party to the CAT, Thailand is obligated to take action to prevent torture, hold perpetrators to account, and provide redress and protection to victims of torture. The AHRC has noted that this is not always the case, such as in the criminal prosecution of Suderueman Maleh, a survivor of torture in southern Thailand, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2011 after he brought a torture complaint against a police officer who was later cleared of responsibility (AHRC-STM-103-2011). Similarly, when Kritsuda Khunasen, who was arbitrarily detained for nearly a month following the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order, released two video interviews detailed her torture and abuse while in military custody, the junta’s response was to threaten and discredit her (AHRC-STM-151-2014). The appropriate response in all of these cases would be for the military and government to initiate independent investigations into torture.
The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the judicial harassment of Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and calls for the immediate cessation of the legal proceedings against her. Further, the Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the Thai government to pass the relevant domestic legislation and take action to redress and end torture, in line with its obligations as a state party to the CAT.